Tagore and Mrs. E. (2000)

Tagore and Mrs. E. (2000) is a site-specific intervention of fictional diaries at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), questioning the museum’s authority by revealing invisible histories.

I responded to Group of Seven member, F. H. Varley’s painting, titled Portrait of Mrs. E. (1921) in the Canadian Historical Galleries. It is a portrait of a bohemian women sitting in a yoga-like pose, quite unlike the society portraits of the time. Upon researching Varley, I discovered a little known history recounting the actual visit of the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore to Canada in 1929 (which Varley helped facilitate). In response to the painting and this new information, I filled a drawer opposite the painting with three faux diaries which I attributed to Mrs. E. I then composed a narrative, modeled after the character Adela Quested from E.M. Forster’s novel, A Passage to India, to capture the sexual and spiritual excitation hinted at between an English woman (Mrs. E.) and the man who painted her (Varley) and the man who inspired her (Tagore).These authentic looking diaries recall histories of exclusion as does the world map that lines the drawer. The map traces transatlantic routes that both Varley and Mrs. E. would have followed when emigrating from Britain. These routes are contrasted with the transpacific route taken in the infamous incident of the Komagata Maru (1914) where hundreds of Indians were denied entry into Canada.

My intent is to raise questions about the relationships between man and woman, colonizer and colonized, white and black races, and fact and memory. The work also questions the authenticity of the artefact and the authority of the museum as cultural interpreter.

Tagore and Mrs. E. was created for the exhibition Private Thoughts/Public Moments, curated by Sutapa Biswas as a collaboration of the South Asian Visual Arts Collective and the Art Gallery of Ontario, 2000. The work also exhibited at Bose Pacia, New York (2001), the India Habitat Centre (2002), and Croweaters Gallery, Lahore, Pakistan (2003).

Download: Essay (Word format)

Private Thoughts/Public Moments Brochure
Fuse Magazine, Germaine Koh, Toronto, 2001
Now Magazine, Deirdre Hanna, Toronto, 2001
Kala Magazine, Leela Viswanathan, Toronto, 2001
CBC Radio, interview with Shelagh Rogers, This Morning, 2000

Photo Credit: Art Gallery of Ontario, 2000